The Real Fake News

Pretty much all I know about some of the people I’m connected to on social media is which sites they visit to get the angry pages they share with their friends (and that’s only if I look at the top of the post).

I don’t even know whether they believe strongly in what they’re passing along, or if something happened to sour their mood and a computer with a wi-fi connection was handy at that moment.

I know that people are more complex than their views on a single subject, and that even their views on that subject are more nuanced and layered than is apparent from what they might sign their names to and send out into the cyberverse. Nuance, however, is not well suited to the pace of social media, and so we lose access to an essential part of those around us, and we get an incomplete, “fake,” inaccurate picture of each other. This, as we all know, is a source of all kinds of nasty stuff, especially when we use that as a basis for our interactions out in the physical world. Somebody said once that the trouble with stereotypes was not that they weren’t true, but that they were incomplete. I think there’s some truth in that.

A small number of my social media connections create most of their own posts and for that I am grateful. Even if what they are sharing is angry or tragic or embarrassing or self-deprecating, it’s a window into what is really happening to them as they move through the day. Plus, some of what they create or pass along is funny as hell. I believe there is a basic difference between sharing hate and anger and sharing laughter. Laughter is healing. It’s the best medicine, or so I’ve been told.

And sometimes what they put out there is a kind of love letter to the rest of the world. Those are pretty neat, too.

Okay, rant over. I’m even leaving the oxymoronic title just as it is.

Choosing Sides

A few weeks ago I decided that even though I liked my car, there were several things it didn’t have that I wanted. With my wife’s help I made a list and took it with me to visit several car lots. Almost without exception, when the sales reps looked at my list they said, “Oh, that’s a Subaru.” So that’s what I bought. Not new, but new to me, and so far the choice feels right.

Deciding what is important and letting that guide me to a choice is how I do things when I’ve got it together enough to remember that it’s the best way to go. I can’t say I’m all that consistent yet, but it’s something to aim for.

Of course, whatever method I employ, once I make a decision I immediately start paying more attention to things that support my decision and less to things that indicate I might have made a mistake. There is a downside to this, a real danger. The danger can be referred to as incestuous amplification (a term attributed to the military during the Vietnam War), which is a way of saying that if you only listen to people with whom you already agree, your views tend to become more rigid and more extreme.

Needless to say, this kind of self-perpetuating polarization is rampant this election cycle and has a distinctly unhealthy feel about it. 

After all, elections are about choosing sides, and we all choose sides. Over and over again, all through our lives. It’s part of being human — to look for a tribe, a group to belong to, people who let me know I’m not alone.

It’s also human, once I’ve picked a tribe, to become more aware of the things that separate my tribe from yours, the reasons my tribe is better, stronger, more in the right. I’m not sure there’s any way around this. Just as there is no light without darkness, no good without evil, if we’re going to measure something we also need something to measure it against.

There are a couple of ways to do this measuring; one is to say how my tribe is better. The other is to say how your tribe is less than mine in some way. If from my point of view the way yours is less than mine is accurate and important, that’s one thing. If the difference is trivial or inaccurate, that’s something else entirely.

Civil discourse is a good and necessary thing. My tribe has stuff that yours doesn’t and, if I’m being honest, the reverse is also true, and real progress can come from honest discussion and disagreement. Unfortunately, there is a part of me that is capable of the uncivil, the crude, the use of ad hominem attacks to make my point. Looking around, I don’t think I’m alone in this. The secret is, I think, not to deny that part of me but rather to refuse to be guided by it. 

After all, that’s really the lazy way out, isn’t it? If I spend my time and energy on attack, then I don’t have to examine my position to see if it makes social, scientific, moral, or spiritual sense. Contradictions won’t bother me if I don’t let myself know they are there.

In the service today our minister kept returning to the theme of how hard it is to stay human. It’s unfortunate that it is difficult, because our shared humanity is what binds us together and allows us to tackle the big issues without getting bogged down in personal attacks or bogus arguments. There are times, and I think this may be one of them, when getting bogged down can have devastating consequences.

A New Look for Boone

The books in the Boone Series will be temporarily unavailable while I make some changes to the cover design and interiors. I appreciate your patience and will have the books (both print and ebook) back as soon as possible. Nick Castle Design did a great job on the covers and I’m looking forward to getting the books back out on the market. Stay tuned!

Adam mommy

I checked my iPhone yesterday and saw that I had a voicemail. I opened it and scanned the transcript before I listened to it.

Earlier in the week I had stopped by Three Rivers Market to check on an item they no longer carried; I wanted to know if I could order it. Randy said he would check and someone would get back to me. The voicemail was from Heather, who had the information I had requested.

The transcript read that while they no longer carried that specific type of Adam mommy, I could order it if I was willing to buy a full case — 8 boxes. When I called Heather back to confirm the order we had a good laugh about the transcription program’s butchering of the word edamame.

I was reminded of other computer translation programs and specifically of one example a friend of mine posted on Facebook. Someone had taken the words to “Rocky Top” and run them through several different languages and then back to English. The result was surreal. I tried the same thing just now with a different song:

Here we go

Come on, hand, days

So it’s open

Play a new game

This is the current laughing boy

It thrives well

In the morning, blasphemed

In the heart

The above is, of course, the first verse to “Brown-Eyed Girl.” It appears that even with all the advances in AI there are still some things that work much better with a human touch.

By the way, my order of Adam mommy should be here within the next few days. I’m looking forward to it; we ran out just last week. 

One Man’s Ceiling

After last night’s abundance of music (John Prine on Austin City Limits and Paul Simon on SNL) I had a hard time deciding about this morning’s selection for my daily hot tea and vinyl. I went with Mr. Simon and all the way back to “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” which was recorded at Muscle Shoals, a legendary place that transcended societal convention and produced some mighty fine music. I ended up on side one.

The side ends with “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” which is ostensibly about living in an apartment building and minding your own business, but made me think of the increasingly dire warnings about the damage we’re doing to our home in the name of short-term gains. It is our great fortune that laws (and governments in general) are primarily concerned with setting a standard below which we cannot go. No government rules tell us that we can’t do more than the minimum, only that we can’t do less.  We have to pay workers minimum wage, for example, but we’re not required to only pay that. We can do better if we choose. Just because we can dump trash in our rivers doesn’t mean that we are required to, and so on. Unfortunately, at present our capital and other houses of government are filled with “accomplished professionals” who spend an inordinate amount of time either insinuating or openly accusing each other of behavior that is at best unethical and possibly illegal. Frankly, it’s embarrassing; it’s like a limbo contest.

Governments set the lowest bar. 

We are not required to limit ourselves to that.

Unexpected Texts

Last night Suzanne and I were sitting in the family room doing nothing in particular when my phone, which was sitting on my desk in the study, made the little noise that signaled a text had arrived. Since I seldom get texts except from Suzanne, I was curious, but not enough to get up and walk all the way into the next room to check. Then it signaled again, and again, seven times in all, and I decided I should probably go check on it. The first of the seven texts read, “Heyyy sexy ass,” which should immediately make it obvious to anyone who knows me that a mistake had been made. The next half a dozen texts were very specific about what the sender wanted, and were more and more graphic. Since some body parts I do not have were involved, it was clear the texts were not meant for me. I thought long and hard about my reply; there were so many possibilities. In the end I simply texted, “You probably have the wrong number” and did not receive any more texts from the mystery admirer.

I think the internet is a civilization-changing invention, ranking up there with the printing press. It has permeated all aspects of our lives and is on the whole a real boon for mankind, making research and communication on a world wide scale accessible to almost everyone. 

There is, however, a downside or two. The person who texted me meant to send his or her messages of desire to someone, and that someone did not receive them. I got them instead. I wish them well on their journey of love (or at least lust) and hope it is a consensual adult relationship. I also hope they leave me out of it from now on.

Making Your Soul Grow

Tomorrow is the start date for the contract I have with a professional cover designer. When “Pushing Back,” originally intended as a stand-alone novel, grew to become a series of three books (with a possible fourth beginning to appear in my head) I thought I should do something to tie the book covers together thematically. As a visual artist I am incompetent to the point of being laughable, so over the last several months I’ve been looking around for someone to take on the job.

There is no shortage of designer’s pages on the net, so I had a lot to choose from; there are pre-made covers and custom designs, designers whose genre speciality is obvious as soon as you see one or two of their creations, and prices ranging from less than $50 to over $3,000 per cover. A couple of years ago I needed an illustrator for one of my children’s books and found her through thumbtack.com, so when I came across reedsy.com I immediately signed on. Reedsy is a clearinghouse for vetted editors, formatters, and cover designers, and works by having the prospective client choosing five candidates, describing the project, and receiving bids. That’s how I ended up with Nick, and we begin our collaboration tomorrow.

I’ve known for a while now that one of the things I need is a creative outlet of some kind. It’s one of the reasons I write books and play music, and beginning this new project is reminding me of how important it is for me to have this in my life. Kurt Vonnegut said that “practicing an art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow,” and I know that’s true for me. Comparing myself to a Vonnegut or Bradbury or Burke, or for that matter a McCutcheon or Messick or Hall, is not only useless, but antithetical to the whole point Mr. Vonnegut was making. And that’s a liberating insight; when I read a paragraph of James Lee Burke’s, his ability to evoke image and mood is a pleasure to experience, not a reason to disparage my own ability as a writer. 

We are creators, all of us, and the people in my life who claim they “don’t have a creative bone in their body” are working with a definition of creativity that is a little narrow, in my opinion. From a well-built garden shed to a delicious meal, from a class of school children with that light of curiosity still in their eyes to a butterfly garden in the middle of the city, and on and on, we bring order and beauty to our world. The number of people who know about what you have created is not a useful measure of its worth. The real question is, does it make your soul grow? 

Stan the Man

Today I saw the New York Times obituary for Stan Brock; it cited an interview in which he was asked how he would like to be remembered 100 years from now. His answer was that he hoped nobody would remember who he was because “this would be a thing of the past.”

Of course he was talking about RAM, his gift to the world. It’s hard to imagine his wish coming true, partly because everywhere RAM sets up, far too many people line up than they can accommodate. A major shift in priorities would be needed for RAM to become unnecessary.

More important, though, is Mr. Brock’s understanding of the real meaning of service to one’s fellows. There was never any indication during his life that he thought he was more important than the organization’s mission. Escaping that ego trap is not easy, and our culture is full of examples in every field of those who have been caught up in the delusion that they are what is important, not the message they are trying to pass along or the job they are supposed to be doing. I could easily make a long list, and my guess is so could any of you.

The other list is shorter. Stan Brock, Jimmy Carter, Buckminster Fuller, the sisters Helen and Ellen who started the Love Kitchen, and already I’m searching my mind for more names. And that is as it should be. There is much good being done in this world by those not interested in headlines or monuments or personal gain. From the Native American teachings to the parables of Jesus to the Tao te Ching to the old guys sitting around at the farmer’s co-op, the message is clear — don’t get too full of yourself; if you do you miss the whole point.

Stan the Man. What he started was, and is, a very good thing for a great many people. If he was given to pride, it would be a legacy to be proud of. He wasn’t, and is all the more significant because of that.

Transitions

I started drawing Social Security this month, having turned sixty-six years old. Medicare starts in October, completing my official transition to the old-timers’ club.

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a pretty good gig. I don’t have a lot of money coming in, but I spent my employment years in education, so I’m used to that. My days are full (at least as full as I want them to be), and it’s my schedule, not someone else’s. Between writing and music and volunteer work, sometimes I barely have time for my daily nap.

One thing I don’t spend my time on is wishing for a return to the good old days. I know I have a well-developed selective memory, and I’m guessing most of those pining away for how things used to be have the same condition. I do count myself among those who are dismayed by the recent loss of progress in many areas; having said that, I look forward to the continuation of the trend I’m already starting to see, of some people in power starting to push back. It’s taking longer than I would like, but that tug-of-war has been going on throughout our country’s history. It’s built into the structure of our political system, and even those of us who are not political junkies have a role to play. We would do well to remember that, pay attention, and vote our consciences. 

Politics aside, the overall question of what to do now is an interesting one. One thing that keeps me going is the fact that I can still be surprised, and there has never been a shortage of new and interesting things to learn and experience and appreciate. Something I can do now that I couldn’t before is wake up, have a cup of hot tea, and wait to see what comes along to fill the day. I almost never find myself being disappointed or bored, and that is a precious thing indeed, maybe the best thing.

An advantage I have, along with the other folks that have made it this far, is that if I gather my wandering brain cells together long enough to function, I can use the fact that I’ve seen a lot of stuff to step out of the frantic pursuit of what’s new and shiny and focus on the core things that remain. Maybe I’ll pass those insights along to all the youngsters out there.

Or maybe I’ll just tell them to keep the noise down, that it’s time for my afternoon nap. It’s a tough call.

Luxury in the Middle of the Day

Yesterday a young woman I had never met before had her hands all over me for an hour and a half.

Of course I’m talking about a massage, in this case a birthday gift from Suzanne. The second professional massage I’ve ever had, I would like very much for it not to be the last, and I’m not sure I’m willing to wait for another birthday to come around in the hopes of getting another gift.

Whether or not I can arrange that depends, as do so many things for me these days, on finances. This month I start drawing Social Security, which will double my retirement income. My pension from the state positions me a little above full-time minimum wage, but I can still see that line from my front porch; the SS check will add a little more distance. 

Of course, by any reasonable standards, I’m already living the good life. I live in a house that’s paid for, and even though it’s a little hard to get to, especially in bad winter weather, some would say it’s a nice place. I don’t lack for food or power or any of the necessities of life, and I can afford some entertainment and limited travel. I have friends and an expanding family, and, as I tell people, in every way except financial, I am a wealthy man.

I think one of the keys to satisfaction with one’s lot in life lies in the realization of where one stands on the continuum. As I said, I don’t lack for any of the necessities of life, plus I’m a white male in a society that affords that demographic a position of some privilege. The fact that other demographic groups want to share in that privilege doesn’t frighten me; I don’t believe that there is only a limited amount of wealth and fair treatment to go around and those of us who have it have to guard it and be very choosy about who we share it with. I’m more Fullerian than Malthusian, I guess.

Having said that, I’m fairly certain that a weekly or even monthly massage is going to be beyond my grasp, at least until someone buys the movie rights to my Boone series. Given the fact that interest in that area is at present non-existent, I’m not holding my breath.